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A Risky Take that Deserves a Repeat


(A Post Review on ‘Banwa!’)

The characters Apu, Kawayan and Tarong met. Photograph courtesy of 'Banwa!' production.

The characters Apu, Kawayan and Tarong met. Photograph courtesy of ‘Banwa!’ production.

For a student and a class production of Speech Communication and Performing Arts Division at the College of Arts and Sciences, University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB)—‘Banwa!’ is one that most theatergoers would say a ‘great’ risk to do, but given the geniuses behind it—it did the trick and did click as another show was added when it had its run in September this year. It also earned a rightful nomination at 2013 BroadwayWorld.com Philippines Awards as Best Filipino Play beating other nominees—DUP’s ‘Collection’, DUP’s ‘Adarna’, Harlequin Theater Guild’s ‘The Sky Over Dimas’, and Tanghalang Pilipino’s ‘Der Kaufmann’.

From its playwright, Om Velasco who was inspired to do an adaptation of Edward Mast’s ‘Jungalbook’, which was originally based on the novel of Nobel Prize Winner, Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’; this production of Thea 107 Class (Theater Communication) and Thea 108 Class (Acting) under the direction of professional actor-director for theater, television and film—Professor Joey Ting with choreography and movement by Jeremy Dela Cruz—is worth restaging.

The material has great promise, but still needs some tweaking in order to be at par with mainstream theater productions that proliferate in Manila.

Restaging ‘Banwa!’ may require more and longer preparations and finding the right performers, not just simply actors, but artists who are really willing to push the envelope further. If I had high regard toward Dexter Santos’s ‘Orosman at Zafira’ (OZ)—this work of Velasco-Dela Cruz-Ting combined is a refreshing treat to watch.

Don’t get me wrong, the actors chosen to play key roles were good in their respective rights, but only a handful I can daresay that impressed me. For a project, as ambitious as this—it needs an equally powerful cast to be able to compete with other recognized previous productions. Based on its final run on Friday, September 27—there were performances that were noticeable.

Chesca Vistal, the female version of Apu, did give a moving interpretation of the owl who raised the lead character named Kawayan. Her voice was reminiscent to Tao Aves’s and Jean Judith Javier’s in OZ. If given another opportunity and perhaps reprise her role—she may still be effective, and even more affective to her audience.

The scene when Baskog encountered Kawayan. Photograph courtesy of 'Banwa!' production.

The scene when Baskog encountered Kawayan. Photograph courtesy of ‘Banwa!’ production.

Baskog’s character breathed by JC Alfajora, though it lacked the element of ‘fear’ when he appeared onstage, still his rendition is acceptable for a maiden production of ‘Banwa!’ My recommendation, the said character should have the commanding presence that is similar to Pen Medina or Reuben Uy as nemesis.

The neophyte Pau Gonzales as the singing crow or as Tugak, left a memorable jazzy experience with her kind of voice that mesmerized her guests. Despite the ‘challenging’ venue, her voice lingered and reverberated all throughout the scenes she had. Then, two of the four Siphaya[s] were breathtaking as the Python[s] slithering on steel bars like pole dancers. Pat Duremdes and Shen Montaras gracefully showcased their moves. They both effectively depicted the cunningness of such creature.

Erik John Frasco, who alternates as Kawayan was Punggoy that night. The actuation of an ape was evident in him and was pretty comfortable as opposed to being a human—as Kawayan. He had the magnetism, but he has to be aware of it and must make his audience fully connect with him.

If there were performances that were passable, then there were some that missed their chances to shine in their assigned characters at their supposed to be their ‘moments’.

Tarong, the tamaraw, the protector of Kawayan as portrayed by Brylle Galang failed to essay his role with such authority like of Narnia’s Aslan. His movement didn’t reflect lordship among the rest of the animals in ‘Banwa!’ The three Bugik[s] and Elyan[s]—the wild boars and the elephants need to internalize deeper their characters. The ladies who acted as the wild boars may have tried to be relevant as the Sexbomb Dancers, which they shouldn’t be contented being ‘sexy’, but have to be scene-stealers, too. While the ‘elephant’ ladies—they had no presence like how they are treated in Asian mythologies—as deities symbolizing strength and wisdom. Had they not mention a line that underlined what kind of creature they were—their appearance onstage could have been unnecessary.

And for every show, there always comes positive points. Ting showed his versatility as the production’s director. With the kind of theater in the round setup it had, he was still able to work around and maximize the limited space and made all his cast members move and dispelled the obstruction of the fixed four pillars on its center.

Presenting a carnival-like ambiance was quite easy for Ting since he has done mainstream television musical shows. Though, some of the choices he made for some actors who took the important parts weren’t really that great, but most of which were excellent and do deserve to be retained in the next possible run of the said production or maybe do some more stints with him.

Velasco as the playwright is exact with painting scenes of tensions between the world of the jungle and its characters. His work was very clear as I would say—his audience was able to grasp fully the familiar flora and fauna found in our jungles, but also our in own culture and traditions, which were fused with Ting’s modern interpretations as well.

Dela Cruz justified what Ting wanted to do with his vision of exploring and combining altogether—Dadaism, contemporary pop art and culture, industrial and machine art installations, stylistic movements, techno-folkloric music and circus-like stunts—as he complemented with the movements he provided for the actors.

And the lines in the songs serve as a reminder of who we are as people and as stewards of what God has created for us.

These lines: Ikaw at ako, iisang dugo / Lalim ng ating mata’y ito ang sikreto. / Buhay nati’y pintig ng iisang pulso / Pulsong inaawit ng ating puso./—will definitely be easy for its audience to sing-along and identify with.

‘Banwa!’ deserves a repeat, if not in UPLB, but maybe in a grander stage and with far better and mature artists to perform for such risky take.

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